World War I Military Watches
Men used pocket watches instead of wristwatches since the latter were considered to be women’s fashion accessories before the onset of World War II. However, the practicality of wearing a watch on the wrist became clearly undeniable. Eventually, wristwatches began appearing in the US military during World War I and the inter-war era.
The early watches that appeared during this period were pocket watches converted to strap on the wrist. Others were wristwatches made “rugged” by adding screens or bars over the crystals. Meanwhile, officers privately procured military watches that were available such as the Cartier Tank Watch and pre-WWI watches by Bulova and Hamilton. It is difficult to establish when the official procurement of US military standard wristwatches took place.
World War II Military Watches
During the First World War, manufacturers produced US Military issued wristwatches in large quantities for all services of the US armed forces. During this time, wristwatches were considered necessary only for aviators, ground and naval officers, and officers with commands and technical responsibilities.
Most US military issued watches had mechanical parts with winding stems. The second hand of these watches jumped from one second mark to another instead of moving smoothly. This so-called hack feature made the watch easy to accurately synchronize with other watches. Dials were of both black and white sheathed enclosed in a dull stainless steel or parkerized case. These wristwatches used Olive drab or black cotton bands for their straps.
Some types of wristwatches issued during the Second World War were:
1. The Army Air Force Type A-11 Wristwatch – This was produced in large quantities by Bulova, Elgin and Waltham for the US Air Force and the British Royal Air Force.
2. “ORD DEPT” ordnance watch series – This was the most commonly produced and issued watch to army personnel during the war. To indicate its type of movement, this wristwatch used a system of part number prefixes. These prefixes include “OC”, “OD”, and “OF”.
3. Hamilton R88-W-800 Wristwatch – This was a limited type of wristwatch produced by Hamilton for the Navy and the Marine Corp. Models for the former had a black face, while models for the latter had a white one. Hamilton produced only a total of 15,000 wristwatches of this type.
Post War Military Watches
Despite large inventories of wartime production after the war, manufacturers of United States’ military issued watches included innovative designs in these devices. This was particularly true for watches issued to pilots and other officers with specialized duties.
Some of the military watches issued to the US Armed Forces were:
1. The A-17 Pilots Watch – This watch was manufactured by Waltham. It was issued to US Air Force pilots before and during the Korean War. It appeared much like the World War II A-11. The only apparent difference were the red luminous markings on the hands and numbers of the watch.
2. U.S. Navy BuShips Divers Watch – This was issued to Underwater Demolition Teams in the Korean War. It had a stem cover connected by a tiny chain and a black face with luminous hands and numbers.
3. The MIL-W-3818A Watch – This was manufactured by Bulova, Benrus, and other watch manufacturers in the 1960’s. It had a stainless steel case, a black face, at least 15 jewels, and a hacking movement. It was later upgraded to MIL-W-3818B by 1964. This watch was issued to army personnel in the Vietnam War.
4. The U.S.A.F. GG-W-113 Pilots Watch – This was manufactured by Benrus, Waltham, marathon, and Hamilton. It was issued to US Air Force pilots in 1967. The watch featured a steel case and was relatively larger and more legible than the Army MIL-W-46374.
5. The U.S. Navy Benrus Type I Class A Dive Watch – This was issued to the Navy SEALs and other special forces from the mid-1970’s and onwards. The watch’s general appearance mimicked the Rolex Submariner, with a decipherable black face. It featured a 17 jewel automatic, mechanical movement and a fat case.
US Military Wristwatches MIL-W-46374
1. MIL-W-46374A Watch. This series of US military watches began upon the publication of its specifications in 1964 and continues to this day. Its technology has moved from the mechanical movements of the Vietnam War era watches to modern and accurate electronic movements. The concept for this line was developed for an inexpensive field watch for the infantry and service troops. The line features watches with plastic case and no repairable parts.
2. Specification MIL-W-46374 OD Plastic Watch
3. MIL-W-46374B watch – This was required to contain the H3 and radioactive symbol on the dial. This was due to the tritium used to give the watch its luminous glow. The watch had 7 jewel manual wind mechanical movements, acrylic crystal, and a steel case.
4. MIL-W-46374C Watch – This was the the sea version of the MIL-W-46374. The said watch had its specifications published in 1983. This version featured a plastic case.
Modern US Military Watches
The performance standards issued by the US military for watches in the 1990’s and 2000’s focused on expected results rather than on the details of construction and appearance. Military institutions accepted commercial watches that met these standards as military supply items. This is in addition to specialized watches having specific military designs. Most military personnel who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan personally preferred these watches instead of the standard GI watch. Some of these watches include:
1. MIL-W-46374E Watches. Issued in 1989, these watches are mandated to shift from tritium paint that were used with earlier versions to the use of tritium tubes to hold the radioactivity that was the source of illumination. Manufacturers updated the design for the watch’s hands and dial, and mandated the H3 mark and symbol for radioactivity.
2. MIL-W-46374F Watches
3. MIL-W-46374F Type 6 Marathon. Issued in 1991, the specifications for this line required a Type 6 Navigator watch. Commercial manufacturer Stocker & Yale produced its P650 and P660 designs in response to this new requirement. Meanwhile, Marathon came up with the Navigator 211. From 1995 to 2000, special forces used SandY P650 watches.
4. MIL-PRF-46374G Watches. The G standard allowed for the US military to focus on the performance of the watch, rather than setting a detailed specification for it. Commercial watches that meet these performance tests are procured and issued as official military watches. Watches under this standard have the H3 and radioactive symbols removed so users can clearly see its hands and numbers.